As It Happens

[UPDATED] Parents of Down syndrome teen call for change to Canada's residency law

An Ontario university professor is criticizing the Canadian government's decision to deny his family permanent residency. The reason? Felipe Montoya's teenage son has Down syndrome and immigration authorities say that the 13-year-old could place a strain on the health care system.
Nico Montoya, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome, plays soccer with his father Felipe, right, his sister Tania, second left, and his mother Alejandra Garcia, left, at their home in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Saturday, March 19, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch)
Listen6:32
[Updated August 12, 2016] This week, the Canadian government overturned their original decision and granted a Costa Rican family permanent residency in Canada. Felipe Montoya tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch that he intends to keep up the fight to have the government change the law: "That's our number one goal." Listen to our latest interview here:
Family denied residency over son with Down syndrome returning to Canada 5:34

Here's our original post for more on their story:

Nico Montoya, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome, plays soccer with his father Felipe, left, his sister Tania, second left, and his mother Alejandra Garcia, right, at their home in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Saturday, March 19, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch)
Felipe Montoya and his family live, work and go to school in Ontario. But, the Canadian government says the family of four from Costa Rica cannot become permanent residents. Montoya's son, Nico, has Down syndrome and immigration authorities say that the 13-year-old could place a burden on the health care system. Now, the family is calling on the federal government to change the law.

On Monday, As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Felipe Montoya — an environmental studies professor at York University — about his son's case. Here's part of that conversation:

CAROL OFF: Professor Montoya, how did you feel when you were told by Canadian citizenship officials that your son Nico is considered a burden?

FELIPE MONTOYA: Well, we've been [trying to get permanent residency] for three years. And, we were warned that his condition of having Down syndrome would be an obstacle to permanent residency. So, even though … it's hurtful, we were prepared for it.  

Nico Montoya, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome, pretends to give a "red card", like referees do in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Saturday, March 19, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch)

CO: Does Nico have special needs?

FM: Of course. As we all do. And, that's my contention. We all have special needs.

CO: But, that's a legal term. Are there special needs that Nico has in school? Does he need extra programs? Does he need extra services? Does he cost more money than, let's say, your other child?

FM: My daughter who is 17 years old is going to school and she's taking art classes. And, my son, who's going to another public school is taking classes in the community classroom which was already established there and nothing new was created to serve his needs. So, he entered an established classroom that teaches life skills and we equate that with my daughter going into an established classroom that teaches art.

CO: And, what about health needs?

FM: We've gone to the doctor twice because he had a cold during these four years. And, I've probably gone three times. Based on the four years we've been in Canada, his use of health services has been negligible — if any.

Nico Montoya, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome, sits on the couch at his home with his mother Alejandra Garcia, centre, and his sister Tania at their home in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Saturday, March 19, 2016. (Mark Blinch/CP)

CO: We know that with Down syndrome, health and longevity has changed and improved considerably over the years. Is there a reason to believe that Nico would be a burden in his later years on the Canadian medical service?

FM: Of course he might have needs in the future. But, so may anyone else whose genetic identity is not so visible on the surface as it is with people with Down syndrome. The family applied [for permanent residency] and the only person who was looked at after we all came out healthy was Nico — just because he's visibly a person with a genetic difference ... They didn't look at our genomes, like mine for example, to see if I have a tendency towards heart disease or diabetes. So, I could equally be a burden to the Canadian health services in the future.

CO: If you can't clear this up, what happens to your family?

FM: We're given 60 days to rebut this decision ... or to sign a declaration of ability and willingness. This means that we are able and willing to pay for any services that Nico might demand of the Canadian state, despite the fact for four years we have been paying taxes like any other person.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Take a listen to our full interview. 

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